The Life-Changing Magic of Finishing What You Start
Does this bring me joy? The problem with many side projects is that they actually do. Starting a new project is akin to falling in love: the high of possibility, desire to spend all day with them, and blissful ignorance of any red flags.
Then life happens. Cue that friend who tells everybody [insert hot startup] was his idea. We have so many ideas, that we are uniquely qualified for, that sadly die on the vine. Why?
Mildred Norman, also known as the Peace Pilgrim, spent 28 years walking across the United States talking about peace to anybody who would listen. There is a wonderful story in her book about how a middle-aged man slowed down his car next to her to talk. He admired her mission and let slip what he really wanted to do with his life. She immediately encouraged him to which he drove off saying, “Oh, I’m not doing it. That kind of work doesn’t pay anything.”
“And I shall never forget how desperately unhappy that man was. But you see, in this materialistic age we have such a false criterion by which to measure success. We measure it in terms of dollars, in terms of material things. But happiness and inner peace do not lie in that direction. If you know but do not do, you are a very unhappy person indeed.”
Knowing and doing is the secret to happiness. You heard it here first.
Likewise, finishing what you start is a habit – to the extent you believe it is finished. The latter is very important. I am not suggesting blind commitment to every idea that pops into your head. Finishing may mean abandoning a fruitless idea. And carry what you’ve learned to the next project.
The challenge here is how to build endurance and fight the inner inertia that keeps our dreams at bay. The good news is we are creatures of habit. The bad news is we are creatures of habit.
1. Start With A Big Bang
Commitment to change is often a function of an inciting incident or traumatic experience. It’s why every episode of The Bachelor is chockful of adventure – these situations release endorphins, force people to show their true colors, and elicit strong feelings.
What makes this idea different from every other idea you’ve had? What caused you to think of it? Why?
For example, I started Edittress out of sheer poverty from being a struggling writer. It’s not as romantic as it sounds. At the same time, I knew my past experience in corporate land could be helpful to the next generation based on all the informational requests I was getting. A website is born.
2. Make Space
Start what you want to finish by paying for it. Human beings are hardwired to feel better about things that we pay for. This doesn’t have to be money, but it can be.
For example, pay with time. There are only 24 hours in a day, and my bet is that you fill it pretty easily. Track a typical weekday in broad strokes and see where the times goes, no judgements. Then make a payment. Maybe you forgo an evening of social media to focus on this new project.
If you have some financial flexibility, consider taking a course to help you on your way. When I embarked on my first screenplay, I signed up for evening writing classes at a local college. The structure and creative environment was well worth the investment.
3. Feed The Beast
Interest and motivation go hand-in-hand. Our brains are always looking for an “in,” otherwise our mind wanders. Theoretically, your project idea has already been kindled so the additional information stokes the fire.
Immersing yourself in all angles of the idea allows it to become a part of you. Read books, attend seminars, or voraciously search the internet.
“Action precedes motivation”
-Robert J. McKain
4. Easy Does It
People who tend to quickly abandon projects usually have no problem seeing the big picture. It’s the details that frustrate them to a premature ending.
The only antidote I know of here is to break the project into a long list of achievable tasks. For example, if you want to make an app: doodle your vision, sign up for a coding class, talk to a neighbor about it, etc. Incidentally, there are free classes at Apple stores that teach coding with a game.
Most importantly, reward yourself for every task completed.
“There is a 1 in 400 trillion chance of being you. You are one amazing person!”
— Mel Robbins.
5. Imagine It Done
The power of imagination is incredible. Sit up straight and comfortably in a chair with two feet on the floor, take a few deep breaths and picture the final product. Picture yourself…how will your life change? How will this product affect others? What would you do with all that extra cash? Let yourself get excited.
Now repeat steps 3 & 4.
6. Share Your Progress
Finally, feeling alone is a sleigh-ride to giving up on your dream. Schedule a regular meeting with a friend you can be vulnerable with about deadlines and goals. Then join a meetup or find a support group to, if anything, get you out of your head. Or book time with us!
Accountability is the key to sustainable change.
There are even great online alternatives. If you follow me on social media, then you already know I love the hashtag #amwriting. A simple click can transport you into a dynamic community of other writers around the world on the same path.